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Republican group parts with Sanford after trespassing report

Former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (C) is pictured in the audience as U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the National
Former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (C) is pictured in the audience as U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the National

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - The National Republican Congressional Committee on Wednesday ended its role in Mark Sanford's campaign to regain his old seat in Congress, after revelations that the former South Carolina governor had been accused by his ex-wife of trespassing at her home.

Sanford and his Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, are vying to win a special election on May 7 to fill the seat vacated by Representative Tim Scott, who in December was appointed to serve in the Senate.

A spokeswoman for the political committee, which supports Republican candidates for Congress, would not comment on the reason for the move.

Politico reported the party's decision not to spend more money on the election was fueled by the trespassing allegation against Sanford, who as governor tried to cover up a trip to Argentina to visit his mistress by saying he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

The national party previously had issued press releases, emails and an online political ad that were critical of Colbert Busch, a businesswoman and sister of TV comedian and political satirist Stephen Colbert.

"Mark Sanford has proven he knows what it takes to win elections. At this time, the NRCC will not be engaged in this special election," committee spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said.

The fallout from the trespassing allegation comes as Sanford seeks to make a political comeback by running for South Carolina's 1st congressional district seat, which he held from 1995 to 2001.

Jenny Sanford, who divorced the former governor after revelations of his affair in 2009, returned from a trip on February 3 to find Mark Sanford leaving her home through a back door using his phone as a flashlight, according to court documents.

Mark Sanford said on Wednesday that he had gone to her house on Sullivan's Island near Charleston to watch a football game with one of the couple's four sons.

"I did indeed watch the second half of the Super Bowl at the beach house with our 14-year-old son because as a father I didn't think he should watch it alone," Sanford said in a statement.

"Given she was out of town, I tried to reach her beforehand to tell her of the situation that had arisen, and met her at the back steps under the light of my cell phone when she returned and told her what had happened," he said.

Sanford's campaign did not respond to a request for comment about the national Republican committee's decision to end its involvement in the election.

COMPLAINT ALLEGES TRESPASSING PATTERN

The Sanfords' 2010 divorce agreement states that neither can enter the other's home without specific permission, according to the complaint filed by Jenny Sanford in Charleston County court.

The complaint alleged Mark Sanford had previously disobeyed the order and "has entered into a pattern of entering onto plaintiff's property, both at her former and current residences, without her permission and against her wishes."

Jenny Sanford has "demanded that it not occur again" and also filed a "No Trespass" letter with her local police department, the complaint said.

Jenny Sanford, who used to manage Mark Sanford's campaigns, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

A hearing about the matter is set for May 9, two days after the special election.

Colbert Busch declined through a spokesman to comment about the accusation against her opponent.

"There is always another side to every story," Mark Sanford said in his statement about the trespassing allegation, adding that it was his belief the court records should have been sealed.

"I agree with Jenny that the media is no place to debate what is ultimately a family court matter, and out of respect for Jenny and the boys, I'm not going to have any further comment at this time," he said.

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Cynthia Johnston and Steve Orlofsky)

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